Preparing yourself for pregnancy
Raj Rathee, MD., is a board-certified OB-GYN with Banner Estrella Medical Center in Phoenix. You can reach his office at (623) 846-7558.
Question: My husband and I are considering starting a family. What can we do to improve our chances of a safe pregnancy and healthy baby?
Answer: Many people know about the importance of prenatal care and making healthy decisions while pregnant. But not everyone is aware that women and men can receive care and make choices before they conceive that will reduce the risk of birth defects and pregnancy complications.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention considers preconception care important because of persistence of adverse pregnancy outcome as 31 percent of these can be avoided or reduced. Preconception care is care that women of reproductive age should receive before becoming pregnant in order to ensure the healthiest pregnancy possible.
This starts with your doctor's visit before starting a family. A detailed evaluation is performed going over modifiable risk factors and pertinent genetic history involving disorders, congenital malformations, mental retardation, ethnicity of the woman and partner. Screening for sexually transmitted infections and immunizations are reviewed. A medication list for common conditions is reviewed.
Reproductive history of preterm delivery, stillbirth, recurrent pregnancy loss or uterine anomaly should be evaluated for risk factors. Women with a prior C-section should be counseled to wait at least 15 months before next conception. Postpartum women with a history of gestational diabetes should be screened for diabetes.
Some issues to discuss with the hopeful mother include:
- Diet and exercise.
- Avoiding alcohol, smoking and illicit drugs.
- Environmental and occupational exposure precautions.
- Eating fully cooked meat and avoiding fish that may be high in mercury.
Women should take a multi-vitamin with 400 mcg of folic acid daily. Preconception intake of folic acid is crucial because neural tube development is essentially complete by four weeks after conception (six weeks from last menstrual period). Don't wait until you're pregnant to begin thinking about your health. If you're considering having a baby, make an appointment with your health-care provider to discuss preconception care.